A tale of two cities – flying to Brussels Charleroi

I recently posted about how easyjet have complicated my life and travel arrangements recently by cancelling the route from Liverpool to Brussels that I have been using to travel back and forth from England to Brussels in order to work here and try to have something of a home life. I previously also wrote about how I had avoided Ryanair, in part because of the extra percieved difficulty in getting to Manchester, the much more expensive car parking in the event that I wanted to drive to the airport, and the fact that they fly to Brussels Charleroi rather than Zaventem, which is not nearly as close to the city.

Today was the first experiment in alternative arrangements to travel to and from Brussels for me.  I booked with Ryanair from Manchester, and got a reasonable rate of £42 including the booking fee one way.  I rode home on my motorbike last week (another post coming on that adventure), so this was just to get back to work after the long holiday weekend.  The obvious snag with it was that it was on Monday morning instead of Sunday evening, so I’d have some hours to make up over the corurse of the rest of the week. The upside of this of course was an extra night at home.

After a bit of further research I found that I could get from my home town to Manchester airport by train without as much trouble as I had previously feared it would be.  One change, and took just under an hour which compared favourably with getting to Liverpool using public transport. Actually slightly quicker overall and one change fewer.  How I managed to live in Cheshire for the best part of twenty years and not twig that they’d built a railway station at Manchester airport is quite beyond me.  It really is amazing how selective the brain can be at picking up and retaining information.  It’s not like I’ve never been to Manchester airport, I’ve flown in and out of it dozens of times.  So up early, at the station for 7am, cold and frosty this morning. Train on time, change in Wilmslow, short second train to the airport, so far so good.

This however is where the experiment took a turn towards the negative.  Out of the station and up in the lift to get to the ‘airbridge’ connecting it to the terminals. Only one of the four moving walkways is working, Manchester airport has never impressed me with the quality of it’s fixtures and fittings and the maintenance in general.  It always seems shabby and not particularly well looked after, after so many trips through Liverpool and Brussels this is particularly striking this morning. Liverpool is a pretty small airport overall, but in general this is usually a good thing. The longest queue I’ve ever had for security is ten minutes and it’s usually an in and out experience, all the better for it, less time spent waiting and queuing in the airport are all good things as far as I’m concerned. The walkway twists and turns, through terminal 1, outside again, across the road and into terminal 3. Up the stairs at 8.15 – 40 minutes until the gate closes, this is all going grrrr. Oh #*!@.

Coming up the stairs I can see that there is a queue to go through passport control.  I know that security will be on the other side, and if they are solid at passport control then there’s probably 15 to 20 minutes of wait. Turn left then and looking for the back of the queue.  Oh dear. Going around the corner now past the check-in desks. Eventually I find the end, coming back to meet me as it reached the end wall of the terminal and started on it’s way back to where it started, over 300 metres or so I’d estimate. I’m going to miss this flight.

The time is counting down and I’m starting to get more and more anxious. I’m not going to make it all that way and through security in the time remaining. A glimmer of hope as staff have started making their way down the line looking for people with imminent departures and taking them to the express queue. An announcement says that they apologise and are going to prioritise people in flight departure order. Eventually that was me and I got through. So I have 5 minutes to get to the gate.  Check the board. Gate 48.  Running through the terminal get to gate 48 to find that it’s an Air France flight to Paris.  I query it and say that the board said my flight was 48 and he was rather rude in reply. This is not going well.  I check another board and it says 54. More running.  Eventually I find the flight boarding through gate 53. Overall not the best experience to start the working week and I haven’t left the ground yet. Over half an hour sitting on the tarmac, probably for people who didn’t run to make it to the gate, and eventually we’re off.

On arrival in Charleroi things didn’t improve either.  The shuttle bus ticket machine was only allowing bookings in 90 minutes time. I ended up in a taxi with 7 strangers heading for Gare du Midi.  Accident on the motorway. This was really not looking like my day.  So to cut an already too long story short I got to the office at 2 o’clock rather than the predicted (hoped for) 12.  Over 6 hours door to door, which isn’t the best Monday morning commute I’ve ever had.

What are your experiences with airlines, airports and travel?  It can certainly be a very stressful experience for me (as I’m sure you can tell), even after hundreds of flights all over the world.  Please share your horror stories, I’m sure you’ve had worse ones than mine today, in the comments – if only to cheer me up!


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